Friday, June 27, 2014

The 2013/14 Season Review (2) - Games

In the second part of our season review, we reflect on the highs and lows of the 2013/14 season, focusing on individual matches.

The best moment of the season

Arsenal 3 Hull City 2 (AET), FA Cup Final at Wembley, 17 May 2014
Team: Fabianski, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Arteta, Ramsey, Cazorla (Wilshere 105), Özil (Rosicky 105), Podolski (Sanogo 61), Giroud
Goals: Chester (3), Davies (9), Cazorla (17), Koscielny (72), Ramsey (109)

The FA Cup victory was arguably the best moment of Arsenal's 2013/14 campaign, ending their 9-year trophy drought. Arsenal FC also helped us, supporters, make the FA Cup final a special event for us, dispatching a commemorative banner, flags, and clappers to all the official supporters club around the world. The match certainly lived up to the expectations full of drama, intensity, and determination.

Arsenal fell behind as early as in the 3rd minute. After a shock start, things got worse quickly in the 9th minute, when we found ourselves 2-0 down. Furthermore, had it not been for Gibb's off-the-line headed clearance, the game could have been beyond our reach. However, Santi's free-kick, a 30-yard screamer, changed the whole dynamic of the game. Arsenal didn't look back from there and an elusive equaliser had finally arrived through Koscielny's close-range shot from a corner. Arsenal continued to look for a goal, but they had to wait for it until 10 minutes from the end of extra time, when Ramsey slotted home Giroud's astute back-heel pass.

At O'Neill's Bar in Los Altos, we celebrated the first trophy in 9 years emphatically. It was the best moment of the season for us.

The most important game of the season

Wigan 1 Arsenal 1 (2-4 pens), FA Cup Semi-final at Wembley, 12 April 2014
Team: Fabianski, Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Monreal (Gibbs 63), Arteta, Ramsey (Källström 112), Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sanogo, Podolski (Giroud 68)
Goals: Gomez (63 pen), Mertesacker (81)

The match itself was not something that was likely to stay in our memories for a long time, apart from Fabianski's penalty-shootout heroics, but the psychological consequence of the win was immense. Just imagine what would have happened if we had lost this game. Another disheartening loss after a humiliating 3-0 defeat by the hands of fifth-placed Everton who were breathing down our necks. Needless to say, another year ending without silverware. One may say that the prospect of playing in the FA Cup final kept our players going. Arsenal went on to win all the subsequent matches, including the FA Cup final, after this match. This game was arguably the biggest turning point of the season.

Where the title was lost

Liverpool 5 Arsenal 1 at Anfield, 8 February 2014
Team: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal (Gibbs 61), Arteta, Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla, Özil (Rosicky 60), Giroud (Podolski 60)
Goals: Skrtel (1, 10), Sterling (17, 52), Sturridge (20), Arteta (69 pen)

Chelsea 6 Arsenal 0 at Stanford Bridge, 22 March 2014
Team: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny (Jenkinson 46), Gibbs (s/o 17), Arteta, Oxlade-Chamberlain (Flamini 46), Rosicky, Cazorla, Podolski (Vermaelen 23), Giroud
Goals: Eto'o ('5), Schurrle (7), Hazard (17 pen), Oscar (42, 66), Salah (71)

Everton 3 Arsenal 0 at Goodison Park, 6 April 2014
Team: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Monreal, Flamini (Oxlade-Chamberlain 66), Arteta, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rosicky, Cazorla, Podolski (Ramsey 67), Giroud (Sanogo 71)
Goals: Naismith (14), Lukaku (34), Arteta (61 og)

There is a certain pattern here. Per Mertesacker blamed lunch-time kick-offs away from home for these losses against our title rivals. In that sense, perhaps a 6-3 defeat to Man City should also be included in the same category, but we think the loss at the Etihad was a bit different as we could have beaten the hosts 6-5 had all the ref's decisions gone our way.

Nevertheless, what we have learnt from these games was that Arsenal cannot beat top teams by sticking to Arsene Wenger's attacking football philosophy. Even Aaron Ramsey said that the team had to be more "streetwise" in the big games. The Gunners were too open against these teams. In the modern football and Arsenal's 4-3-3 formation, the full-backs' bombing down the flanks is essential but it often leaves the centre-backs exposed, which is suicidal against top clubs. Arsene Wenger has to learn how to change his tactics, depending on the opponents and their tactics. In the reverse fixtures at home, Arsenal beat Liverpool, and drew with Chelsea, Man City, and Everton. In fact, the Gunners even knocked Liverpool out of the FA Cup just a week after the humiliating defeat at Anfield, by beating them 2-1 at the Emirates. The facts clearly indicate that the team's quality was not a problem, but how they approached these games was. Wenger needs to address the issue next season. After all, these games are six-pointers in the title race.

On the other hand, Arsenal maintained their consistency against bottom-half clubs, where they traditionally dropped points. They say that you need to win the big games to win the title, but Chelsea proved this season that games against lesser teams could cost you a title.


Arsene Wenger cited losing at home to Dortmund in the 82nd minute in the group stage of the Champions League as one of his regrets. Arsenal were too eager to find a winner in the latter stages of the game. As a result, they made themselves vulnerable against counter-attacks and Lewandowski did not fail to capitalise on the fragility.

However, the biggest regret for us, Playa Flamenca Gooners, was Arsenal's failure to beat Manchester United in the defending champions' record-breaking season. While so many other clubs beat the Manchester giants for the first time in their history this season, we were unable to do the same, losing 1-0 at Old Trafford and ending up with a goalless draw at the Emirates.

North London derby treble

Arsenal 1 Tottenham 0 at the Emirates, 1 September 2013
Team: Szczesny, Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Ramsey, Wilshere (Flamini 43), Rosicky (Monreal 78), Cazorla, Walcott (Sagna 90), Giroud
Goal: Giroud (22)

Arsenal 2 Tottenham 0, FA Cup 3rd Round at the Emirates, 4 January 2014
Team: Fabianski, Sagna, Vermaelen (Mertesacker 45), Koscielny, Moreal, Arteta (Özil 75), Rosicky, Wilshere (Flamini 71), Cazorla, Walcott, Gnabry
Goals: Cazorla (32), Rosicky (62)

Tottenham 0 Arsenal 1 at White Hart Lane, 16 March 2014
Team: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Arteta, Rosicky (Flamini 69), Oxlade-Chamberlain (Vermaelen 85), Cazorla, Podolski (Monreal 77), Giroud
Goal: Rosicky (2)

Arsenal achieved a treble against their local rivals this season, scoring 4 goals in total without conceding any. Compared with the previous two seasons's identical scorelines of 5-2 at home and 2-1 away, this season's outcomes look less exciting, but Arsenal's performances underlined their grit and improved defensive solidity. As the red side of the north London spent the most of the season top of the table or thereabout, we didn't have to hear any of that annoying "Mind the Gap" phrase this season from the Tottenham supporters.

Back in the summer of 2014, the Spuds supporters were boasting a number of their new signings all through the summer, while we were frustrated with the reports of Arsenal's failed attempts to sign a new striker. The first north London derby came as the third game of the season. Its highlights were Giroud's superb one-touch goal at the end of a sweeping team play and the Gunner's dogged defensive display thereafter. In fact, too many new signings turned out to be a problem for Tottenham with a long time required for the team to gel together. On the next day, Arsenal confirmed the signing of Mesut Özil, much to the excitement of the supporters and the players alike.

A comfortable 2-0 win over Tottenham in our path to the FA Cup final will be remembered forever with Theo Walcott's famous 2-0 gesture, which earned him an Arsenal legend status instantly. It was an impressive performance from the Gunners, leaving no doubt in a gulf between the two north London sides. However, the game was overshadowed by an injury to this day's star performer, Theo Walcott. Unfortunately to the England speedster and Arsenal, the cruciate knee ligament injury he sustained during the game ended his season prematurely and dealt a significant blow to Arsenal's title challenge.

The highlight of the last north London derby this season was Rosicky's stunning strike in the 2nd minute. In the second half, Arsenal repeated their first derby day's gutsy defensive performance to complete the treble against Tottenham this season.

The most accomplished performance of the season

Arsenal 2 Napoli 0, the group stage of the Champions League at the Emirates, 1 October 2014
Team: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Arteta, Flamini, Ramsey (Monreal 88), Rosicky (Wilshere 63), Özil, Giroud
Goals: Özil (8), Giroud (15)

Arsenal were at their fluent best in the first half, especially in the first 15 minutes, when the club's record signing, Mesut Özil, scored his first goal in an Arsenal shirt and set up Olivier Giroud for the home side's second goal. An in-form Aaron Ramsey was deployed on the right wing in order to accommodate the double pivot, with Mathieu Flamini assigned with a specific task to keep Hamsik quiet. Despite playing out of position, the Welshman ran the game in tandem with Özil. The Gunners were breathtaking in attacking. However, what earned even more plaudits was their solid defensive display in the second half. It was a game of two contrasting halves, but equally satisfying for the Gooners. This was arguably the first stern test for Arsenal's credentials to challenge the titles and they passed it with flying colours.

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